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Mr. Kinnock : The House will sympathise with my not being here more often, if I have to listen to hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett). What does the hon. Gentleman mean by the term "community charge voters", since I have not heard it before? It is a candid expression for him to use. Since he is trying to draw a connection between the liability for taxation and the right to vote, will he tell us whether he should celebrate the fact that people will get up to 80 per cent. rebates? Should that mean a reduction in their civil right to cast their vote?

Mr. Bennett : Only the right hon. Gentleman's logic would get him to that final point. On his first point, as community charge payers will be the same people as the voters, there is clearly a correlation between the two. At

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the moment in some cases, the voters are rarely the ratepayers ; in future, those who vote will also make a contribution to the services.

On the uniform business rate, it seems to me that Opposition Members are selective in their memories. They were in power from 1974 to 1979. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside was a junior Minister in the Welsh Office. The Labour Government cancelled the revaluation in 1978. Admittedly, the present Government also cancelled a revaluation, which only goes to show that when it comes to facing up to challenges, Governments of both parties have been in dereliction of their duties ; but at last the nettle has been grasped, and it is important to recognise, when the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside says that since 1973 there have been large increases in rateable value, that there have also been increases in rental value.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I assume that there will be a wind-up for this debate and, in fairness to both Front-Bench speakers, I think that we should have a little time for them. I take it that the Division will be called at 11.44 pm.

Madam Deputy Speaker : That is barely a point of order. We ought to proceed with the debate.

Mr. Bennett : I have been generous in giving way to Opposition Members and I have been speaking for five minutes.

Rental values have increased tremendously since 1973 and it is not surprising if rateable values have also increased in the same period. A lot of nonsense is talked about the increase in rateable values. A headline in my local paper says, "Rates Shock for Traders", and goes on to say :

"One trader in the town's High Street has seen the rateable value on his property jump from £64 to £1,450--a staggering 2,265 per cent. increase"-- [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Member who has the Floor should not be interrupted in this way.

Mr. Bennett : We have to ignore the intellectual tendency on the Opposition Front Bench because at this time of night they are a little more exuberant than they might otherwise be.

To return to the Tenby Observer of 19 January 1990, it says that one trader in the town's high street has seen the rateable value of his property jump from £64 to £1,450, an increase of 2,265 per cent. If it was really £64, that must be the lowest rateable value for any business in Wales. But even after the increase to £1,450 and without transitional relief, that business will ultimately pay £533.60. That hardly seems to me an unreasonable figure for business premises in a town in my constituency.

But that is the sort of publicity that we get in the local papers, when reporters do not explain what the amount will be under the business rate, but refer merely to the rateable value. The figures show that on the whole businesses in Wales will enjoy a good deal as a result of the settlement. With the transitional relief, no business will face an increase of more than 23 per cent. if inflation runs at 7 or 8 per cent.

My final--

Mr. Ray Powell : At last.

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Mr. Bennett : The hon. Gentleman says, "At last." The House will know that he always makes bogus points of order in Welsh debates on the Floor of the House or during sittings of the Welsh Grand Committee. He does not have two pennies to rub together when it comes to a brain. If he wants me to make a short speech, I suggest that he keeps quiet.

I shall conclude my remarks by referring to the dog that did not bark in the night. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside spoke for a considerable time, as did the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) last Thursday, but they did not mention what the Labour party would do about local community charges and local business rates. It is political dishonesty that neither of them has the guts to tell the British public what the Labour party would do if it formed a Government. What would it do about domestic rates and business rates?

Mr. Wilshire : Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Opposition do not have a clue what they would do, they cannot tell us?

Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend is right.

Unfortunately, between the speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham on Thursday on the English revenue support grant reports and the speech of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside this evening, a report appeared in The Times on 22 January. In that report we are told that the Labour party

"is preparing to unveil"--

Mr. Rogers : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Conservative Members have already taken 46 minutes out of a 90-minute debate and Labour Members have taken only 25 minutes. You will know that 25 Labour Members represent Welsh constituencies while only seven Welsh constituencies are represented by Tory Members.

Madam Deputy Speaker : That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Bennett : I have spoken for 10 minutes, during which there have been several interruptions. I am trying to bring my remarks to an end. I know that Opposition Members do not like it when I and my hon. Friends say that they have no policy.

We are told in The Times that the Labour party

"is preparing to unveil plans to abolish the community charge and replace it with a property tax levied according to people's ability to pay."

Apparently the hon. Member for Dagenham will announce that at a conference in Cardiff next month.

The most important part of the report--it has not been confirmed or denied by any Opposition Member--is that the

"proposals will include the possibility of people living in large shared households receiving separate bills based on a proportion of the value of the property."

That sounds suspiciously like the principle of the community charge. It is time that the Labour party came clean by telling us what it believes to be right.

11.33 pm

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n) : I shall begin my contribution to the debate by asking the Secretary of State to listen with care to a quotation from a report in today's edition of The Independent--

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"Why does the Government insist on ignoring what authorities have been spending, relying instead on fictional figures? The Government figures arise from the wrong information being put into the computer in the first place."

That statement was made by Alan Ward, the Conservative leader of Bracknell Forest district council, not by the treasurer of Gwynedd, Powys or South Glamorgan. Even Conservative council members are saying that the wrong information has been used to set poll tax levels.

The poll tax is abhorrent, unjust, inequitable, iniquitous and regressive. I believe that the Secretary of State takes te same view. Unfortunately, he has not on this occasion had the courage of his convictions, and he will not be joining us in voting against the measure.

The Welsh public oppose the poll tax partly because they have been misled by Welsh Office Ministers and the Government about its level. The figures produced by the Welsh Office in December are a serious under-estimate. The Welsh Office said that the average poll tax would be £174. A month later, we find that every district says that the figure will be substantially more--perhaps 40 per cent., 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. more. In my district, Ynys Mo n, it will be 50 per cent. more.

The reason is that the Government have got all the figures wrong. They have under-estimated expenditure this year, never mind the fact that inflation is running at 8 per cent. Their figures include 3.4 per cent. for inflation next year. The Government have totally misunderstood the position in Wales. Now they say that it is the fault of local authorities that the poll tax will be more. Local authorities in Wales are to be held responsible for the way in which the Government have let the people down.

I remind the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) that there will be a heavy political price to pay. He and his hon. Friends should have the courage of their convictions, like the Tory rebels last Thursday night. They will pay the price unless they join us in the Lobby tonight.

11.35 pm

Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) : We all thought that we would have more time to discuss this important matter. However, whatever antics the Tories get up to in the Chamber or anywhere else do not hide the fact that this is the most unpopular tax ever to hit the Principality of Wales. They are wholly responsible for it.

We all agree that the overall settlement is totally inadequate. It is 4 per cent. short of what is needed to maintain existing services. The Secretary of State keeps telling us that year after year local authorities grumble about the settlements. In Wales they have every right to grumble because over a decade they have been robbed of millions and millions of proper rate support grant.

The Secretary of State has said that local authorities in Wales are extravagant. He has given them £78 million for improvement grants in the valleys and elsewhere, but he has not told us in his empty promises that he has not given them a single extra penny to process those improvement grants.

Many hon. Members have mentioned transitional relief, as they should. Although the system was agreed with local authorities, its implementation by the Welsh Office is flawed. Councils have already told the Secretary of State that not every poll tax payer in Wales will pay the tax, as is happening in Scotland. They have told him that his

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assumptions on council spending, on which the relief is based, are unreal. Under the so-called relief system, out of 855 communities in Wales, only 255 will receive relief. In South Glamorgan, out of 54 communities, only one will benefit. Thousands upon thousands of people will suffer as a direct result of the so-called relief system proposed by the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State has boasted about the unified business rate, but he has not told business people in Wales that new businesses will have no relief, that businesses which move will lose their relief, and that, out of 100,000 business properties in Wales, 70,000 will be losers and only 30,000 will be gainers.

Nor has the Secretary of State revealed the full facts about the poll tax. He has not revealed how he has robbed our councils of nearly £80 million which will go directly on to the shoulders of the poll tax payers. He has not told us about how he refused to listen to Welsh councils in meeting after meeting over the last three or four months. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) talked about Abraham Lincoln. Local authorities in Wales cannot all be wrong all the time about the level of their poll tax.

The Secretary of State has made the most disgraceful attack upon local authorities in Wales that I have heard. At least his predecessor, Lord Crickhowell, did not pretend to like councils in Wales. This Secretary of State came to Wales and said that local authorities were doing a good job. Today, Welsh local authorities will know what he really thinks of them. He has hinted darkly about inefficiency, overspending and irresponsibility. He cannot have it both ways and he is now in an awkward spot. He knows that his Back Benchers are opposed to the poll tax and he is trying to shift the blame on to the Welsh local authorities. The people of Wales will see through him. We know that there is only one person in Wales to blame for the poll tax, and that is the right hon. Gentleman. He has a great deal to answer for, and I urge the House to vote against the measures.

11.40 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ian Grist) : From all the sound and fury tonight, one would not think that the Labour party, when it was in office in 1976-77, was responsible for cutting the rate support grant in real terms by 4 per cent. ; in the next year by 8 per cent. ; and in the year after that, by 4 per cent. Labour Members claim that their hearts bleed for local government, but I for one do not believe it. If this Government had continued with the Labour Government's policy, this year Wales would receive only £650 million instead of £1,000 million. That shows the difference in the achievements of this Government compared with the Labour Government.

Cardiff is the capital city of Wales and sets the tone for so much of life in the Principality. The community charge that the Welsh Office believed was right for Cardiff was £157, a reduction of 22 per cent.--£43- -on the average rate bill for the current year. It was the largest reduction in Wales. What has happened? South Glamorgan has raised the rate by £47 and Cardiff has raised it not by the £29 that we predicted, but by £78, a difference of 168 per cent. I do not think that any hon. Member could believe that that was anything but unfair.

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Cardiff's capital expenditure budget this year rose by 35 per cent., and receipts were down from £25 million to £3.5 million. They paid for it this year to paint the picture for next year. The total spend in Cardiff this year is up by 20 per cent. Councillor Mungham, chairman of the finance committee, is now predicting an increase in the budget for next year of 30 per cent. How on earth can he predict such a rise? He is playing fast and loose because politics is involved : there is to be a city election next year. That is the long and the short of what Councillor Mungham and the Labour party are doing.

The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) has obviously never understood what the total spending assessment included. It included an allowance of 7.5 per cent. for the teachers' pay rise ; the personal social services were covered for the implementation of the Children Act 1989 and the disabled persons legislation and for training needs in social services ; rises in police pay were included, as was highway maintenance ; and some £32.9 million was made available for the cost of the community charge administration and benefit. Opposition Members obviously did not read their papers to discover what was happening. There was an 8.2 per cent. rise for those sectors.

There has been some misunderstanding about the unified business rate. Opposition Members do not appreciate that the amount of money to be raised from business in Wales has not increased : it has been reallocated according to the revaluation. For all the large increases, there have been gainers, too--a fact that people seem to overlook. Of course, since 1973, there has been a change in real values and rents of properties, and everybody knows that : everyone who runs a shop or business will know how values and rents have risen in the past few years--

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion , Madam Deputy Speaker-- put the Question necessary to dispose of them, pursuant to order [19 January] . The House divided : Ayes 252, Noes 206.

Division No. 47] [11.44 pm


Aitken, Jonathan

Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)

Ashby, David

Aspinwall, Jack

Bellingham, Henry

Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)

Bevan, David Gilroy

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter

Bowis, John

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)

Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)

Buck, Sir Antony

Budgen, Nicholas

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butcher, John

Butler, Chris

Butterfill, John

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda

Chope, Christopher

Churchill, Mr

Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)

Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)

Colvin, Michael

Conway, Derek

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Couchman, James

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina

Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Devlin, Tim

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Dunn, Bob

Durant, Tony

Dykes, Hugh

Eggar, Tim

Emery, Sir Peter

Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)

Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas

Fallon, Michael

Favell, Tony

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

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